Saturday, October 13, 2012

D.C. Sniper - Somber Tenth Anniversary Remembrance

Sunday, October 14, 2012, is a date which holds a special, somber note for the residents of Fairfax County and Arlington, Virginia. It is the 10th anniversary of one of the tragic DC sniper shootings, one of over a dozen shootings that terrorized and all but paralyzed the residents of the Metro area for over three weeks starting September 30 and continuing into October of 2002.

Just a year prior to the sniper shootings, the National Capital region had been stunned and traumatized by the 9-11 terrorist attacks. The Pentagon in Arlington was one of the four sites where the lives of thousands of Americans were tragically cut short by brutal, maniacal, religious fanatics. When the DC sniper shootings began in 2002, it was only natural that suspicions of terrorism surfaced and circulated.

However, the perpetrators turned out to be John Allen Muhammad, a convert to Islam (in 1987), and Lee Boyd Malvo, a 17-year-old minor who was biologically unrelated to Muhammad but whom Muhammad called his "son."

At the time of both the 9-11 attacks (September 2001) and the subsequent sniper attacks (September-October 2002), I was attending graduate school in Ottawa, Ontario. However, having lived in the Maryland suburbs outside of DC for several years on two previous occasions, I was very familiar with the locations where the first several shooting victims were targeted, in Maryland. I had driven those roads in Montgomery and Prince Georges Counties countless times and knew people who lived in the shooting areas.Hardly a day went by during that three-week span that I was not emailing someone I knew in Maryland asking how my friends in the area were doing. Luckily, no one I knew was a victim of the snipers.

The Home Depot in Fairfax, Virginia
Now, ten years later, the legacy of one particular victim of the DC snipers has become entrenched in my thoughts. The first time I went to the Home Depot in Fairfax, Virginia, over seven years ago, my husband told me that it was one of the locations where a sniper victim was murdered in 2002. I read what I could find about the shootings on the Internet, and learned the victim's name was Linda Franklin. I have thought about her during nearly every visit to that store since I learned Ms. Franklin's identity. Muhammad was never tried for Ms. Franklin's death.

Recently the local media began writing stories to recall the tragic events of September and October 2002, as the 10th anniversary is upon us. A Washington Post video called "23 Days of Terror" brings back many memories and emotions for me. In a recent rare interview, John Malvo, now age 28 and incarcerated for life, made a chilling revelation. He said that as he and the much-older John Muhammad undertook the senseless, random shootings that autumn, it was the shooting of Linda Franklin at the Fairfax Home Depot that finally evoked an emotion in him.

Muhammad and Malvo had already carried out 11 attacks in the local region prior to the Fairfax shooting, so people in DC, Maryland, and Virginia were all aware that a demented person was targeting innocent people with no rhyme or reason. Many people were afraid to leave their homes, while others had a firm resolve that they would not let this maniac rob them of their freedom. A map of the locations of the shootings reveals how widespread the area is over which the snipers hunted. No one knew where they would strike next. Number eleven on the map below is the Home Depot site where my husband and I shop and where Ms. Franklin was savagely killed.

When these demonic men shot Mrs. Franklin, on Monday, October 14, 2002, her husband was there with her in the Home Depot parking lot. Malvo said that when he saw the look on Mr. Franklin's face and the devastation in his eyes when his wife was shot, he felt like "the worst piece of scum on the planet." And rightfully so. The three photos immediately below were taken by media sources at the scene of the murder, that very night as police sought answers.

My heart breaks for all those whose loved ones were murdered during those 23 nightmarish days in September and October 2002. Last weekend my husband and I visited the Fairfax scene. Having been in the Home Depot parking lot scores of times, I needed to see for myself where Muhammad and Malvo were located when they perpetrated the horrific act, so close to my home.

There is really only one way into the parking lot, so they had to come in this way.

At the time, it was thought that a white van was what the sniper was driving based on witness accounts.

I took pictures from the parking lot across the street from Home Depot...

... and my husband took pictures looking across at where I was in the parking lot. It almost always stands empty.

Clearly the snipers had an unobstructed view.

I took this photo looking eastward from the pedestrian walkway that crosses Route 50.

Since his incarceration and conviction, Malvo has written a diary account and given a recorded interview about the reign of terror that he and fellow serial killer John Muhammad perpetrated. Of the Franklin murder at Home Depot, Malvo said that it was Muhammad who pulled the trigger, and that he shot from the wooded area on a hillside. So it sounds like they did not shoot from the trunk of the car as first suspected.. The Washington Post recently reported:
Malvo remembers being in the blue Chevrolet Caprice, in which police found binoculars and walkie-talkies. He scanned the area to make sure John Allen Muhammad had a clean shot. He gave the “go” order and looked across Route 50 in Seven Corners at the target. Muhammad, hidden on a hill above, pulled the trigger. A bullet screamed across the highway, instantly killing Linda Franklin, who just happened to be going about her business at the Home Depot in Virginia at precisely the wrong time.
But mostly he remembers Ted Franklin’s eyes — the devastation, the shock, the sadness. “They are penetrating,” Malvo said in a rare media interview from prison. “It is the worst sort of pain I have ever seen in my life. His eyes. . . . Words do not possess the depth in which to fully convey that emotion and what I felt when I saw it. . . . You feel like the worst piece of scum on the planet.”

Originally it was reported that Malvo himself was the shooter in all the cases. He has since contradicted that, stating that he lied and confessed to the shootings to protect Muhammad and keep him from the death penalty. It did not help. Muhammad was executed in 2009, a few years after being convicted of one death in Virginia (not Mrs. Franklin's though). Malvo was also convicted but could not be executed since he was a minor at the time of the murders. He is serving six life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Malvo's drawing of how the Caprice was modified to accommodate the shooter in the trunk.

Photo from the treeline at the back of the parking lot across from Home Depot.

The gun used by the snipers.
The modified Caprice.
The ten murder victims from the DC area. Linda Franklin is in the top row, second from right.
There were several other murder victims around the country,
and additional shooting victims who survived.
Muhammad's ex-wife lived in Prince Georges County, MD. Some believe Muhammad
wanted to kill her, and he carried out the sniper shootings to hide his identity and motive.
Standing in that parking lot was indescribably eerie. Ten years ago, two men viciously ended the life of a beautiful woman whom I never met. Yet, standing there at that location a week ago, looking across the highway to the Home Depot parking lot brought me to a strangely quiet "place" within my soul. I found myself weeping in my inner being and praying in my heart for Linda Franklin, her husband and her family. I do not know how Ted Franklin has moved on in her absence. I pray that he has been comforted by the love that he shared with Linda. And I hope that he believes in the after life, because I believe that she is waiting to see him again in Heaven.

This marker is in Wheaton, Maryland, where another sniper victim was slain.


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